The State Dept. will release a 30-page paper Thursday announcing U.S. plans to "keep thousands of Americans" in Afghanistan and Pakistan "for years," engaged in long-term projects including "rebuilding Afghan agriculture, rooting out corruption, and using the local media to counter anti-American sentiment," the New York Times reported.[1]  --  COMMENT: Mark Landler offered no indication what U.S. interests might be justify such a long-term commitment, and of course gave not even a hint of the existence of energy reserves in Central Asia or any mention of the need for pipelines to bring that energy to market....



Asia Pacific


By Mark Landler

New York Times

January 20, 2010

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration’s ambitious civilian push in Pakistan and Afghanistan will keep thousands of Americans in those countries for years -- rebuilding Afghan agriculture, rooting out corruption, and using the local media to counter anti-American sentiment.

The steps, laid out in a 30-page policy paper to be released Thursday by the State Department, are the most detailed blueprint yet for the civilian part of the administration’s strategy in the region.

But the report -- much like President Obama’s initial proposal for increased numbers of troops in Afghanistan -- leaves important questions unanswered, including whether Congress will approve the financing to support such a high level of engagement over the long term, and what role the United States will play in Afghan efforts to draw people away from the Taliban.

President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan is preparing to announce a package of incentives to lure Taliban supporters back into Afghan society.  But American officials are skeptical of the Afghan government’s talk of trying to reconcile with the Taliban’s leaders, especially Mullah Muhammad Omar.

The formal introduction of a civilian strategy reflects the State Department’s frustration that this side of policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan has been largely eclipsed by the Pentagon’s enlarged military operation.

“Everyone pays lip service to the fact that the civilian strategy is important, but then no one pays attention to it,” said Richard C. Holbrooke, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, who is scheduled to testify on Thursday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

In the report, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said, “Our civilian engagement in Afghanistan and Pakistan will endure long after our combat troops come home.”

The United States has already tripled the number of civilians in Afghanistan, from 320 early last year to nearly 1,000 now.  It plans to add 200 to 300 this year, putting many of those people outside Kabul, the capital, in agricultural projects or in government ministries, where they will serve as advisers.

Persuading farmers to turn away from poppy cultivation has emerged as the top American civilian priority in Afghanistan.  The administration wants to reconstitute an agricultural credit bank in Kabul that could make loans to farmers to encourage them to plant fruit, nuts and other alternatives to poppies.

Setting up an agricultural bank would require about $500 million, administration officials said, with $50 million likely to come from the United States and $450 million from other countries.

There are nearly 100 American agricultural experts in Afghanistan, mostly in the south and east.  They are helping to build new irrigation systems, picking up on work that Americans performed there in the 1960s.

Still, the big challenges in Afghanistan this year are more legal and political.  The United States and Britain are helping the Afghan government set up a major-crimes task force in the Interior Ministry, which is intended to be the government’s main agency to crack down on corruption.

The administration also plans to combat anti-American messages carried by Taliban-controlled radio stations.  It is hiring David Ensor, a former correspondent for CNN and ABC, to devise what it calls a communications and counterpropaganda campaign.  The goal is to substantially reduce “enemy propaganda” by July 2011, when American troops are set to begin withdrawing.

Congress has approved $400 million to pay for the deployment of additional civilians in Afghanistan.  But the American ambassador in Kabul, Karl W. Eikenberry, a retired Army lieutenant general, is asking for more, according to officials.  General Eikenberry’s frustration with budgetary constraints spilled into the open last fall, when cables he sent to the State Department were leaked.

The sketchiest part of the report concerns the reintegration of Taliban followers into Afghan society.  This Afghan-led effort will cost $100 million a year over several years, the report says, with the money likely to come from the United States, Britain, Japan, and other countries.

But the State Department must obtain approval from the Treasury Department, because the Taliban are classified as a terrorist organization, meaning it cannot be linked to American financial support.  Mr. Karzai is still weighing whether to ask the United Nations to remove Mullah Omar’s name from a blacklist.  Mr. Holbrooke said that the United States opposed that idea.

Mr. Holbrooke was speaking on the way home from a trip to the region.  As the administration begins carrying out its policy, he is emerging as the salesman for the strategy, traveling to Europe and the Middle East to drum up support from NATO allies and Persian Gulf states.

Mr. Holbrooke said he was now most concerned about Pakistan, which he thinks is not getting adequate international support.  He said he planned to tell lawmakers that he hoped Congress would set aside even more money, beyond the current $7.5 billion in nonmilitary assistance.

“The Europeans are not giving enough aid to Pakistan,” he said.